Drinking Your Way Around Budapest
January 1, 1970
I love drinking. Like love it, and European habits only added to a well-established Kiwi enjoyment of a cheeky brew or two. If you don’t believe me, you don’t have to scroll far through my Instagram posts to see one that features a wine bottle.
I also love Budapest. Budapest is known by some at the ‘Paris’ of Eastern Europe, except unlike Paris everything in Budapest is actually affordable. Booze is cheap, accommodation is affordable and is a city filled to the brim with culture and history.
Of all the places I’ve been while traveling, my favorite place to go out is in Budapest. Budapest, in general, is an amazing city. There’s something here for everyone. It’s beautiful buildings and structures that should be admired at in awe, it’s got the famous bathhouses to soak in, the largest covered Market in Europe to peruse and a city full of really friendly locals. These are all the things that make Budapest amazing. As if that isn’t enough, Budapest has a thriving nightlife. I’m here today to make you excited at the prospect of your night out in Budapest.
Below are some of the ways that I enjoyed the drinking culture and nightlife over the three times I’ve visited the Budapest so far.
Beer Bikes? Beer and bikes? What could go wrong? Well, honestly, not as much as you think. You are supplied a sober driver to make sure you aren’t a hazard to traffic, but it is the collective leg power of your group that compels the bike onwards. It really is the best of both worlds, enjoying a beer, exercising, music blaring and a different view of Budapest.
After we had finished the two-hour ride, making the most of (what seemed like) the bottomless barrel of beer, we were free to humor some rowdy Australian’s by attempting shoeys in the middle of Heroes Square. The beer bikes were an amazing way to start off the evening, and despite that physical side of the activity, it was a nice way to wind down from a hard day being a tourist and wind up for an amazing night out ahead. Prices with Beer Bikes Budapest start from 19.000 HUF but go up depending on the amount of time you want the experience to last. If you have a big group you might be able to negotiate a group discount.
If you are feeling a bit more refined a nice way to start of an evening in Budapest is with a river cruise. There are a number of different cruises, but if you can afford it I would recommend an evening one, for a view of Budapest from the river after the sun has gone down. Do a dinner cruise, most of these also include a certain amount of alcohol, and enjoy some local cuisine. Even if you don’t want to drink this is a stunning way to see the city lit up at night. I found that a couple glasses of wine made the whole experience extra special, as the boat slowly got rowdier and rowdier. Alternatively, you can find party cruises if you would prefer to leave the notion of refinement on the shore.
I could point out to you on a map all the places I enjoyed drinking, but what fun would that be? Why not get advice from a local, or even a veteran of the local nightlife. Sign yourself up for a pub crawl, it’s one way to be taken around the best bars, and most will even include a couple of free drinks. If that isn’t enough of a reason for you, pub crawls are the best way to meet people and make friends. Wake up tomorrow with the collective hangover and now you have people to explore with.
Some hostels offer their own pub crawls, but if they don’t the Original Budapest Pub Crawl leaves from Wombats Hostel every night, right in the center of Budapest. If you want to take it more than once during your stay they often change their route, so you won’t do the same crawl twice and will get the best experience each time. €17 Euro will get you a guided pub crawl with the Original Budapest Pub Crawl and an hour of free drinks at their first stop. Make the most of it!
Ruin Bars are unique to Budapest, and, even if your not a drinker, is completely worth going to explore. Located in the old Jewish quarter these once abandoned buildings have been given a new lease of life in the most Hungarian way possible. Each bar is completely different and spectacularly random. Like the buildings themselves, the things that decorate it were also once lost and forgotten, from old, gutted, car, to chairs hanging from the ceiling, everywhere you look is a new sight. They have been a big part of the nightlife in Budapest for near on fifteen years.
A drinking experience in Budapest is not complete unless you visit Szimpla Kert, one of the original ruin bars in the city. Instant is another ruin bar, though it offered more of a clubbing atmosphere, that I particularly enjoyed. Recently it relocated to a bigger venue, outgrowing its old location, but has maintained the good time vibes through the move. Just be careful not to get lost in these bars, they are so big it can be near impossible to find your friends or group again. It’s more than once I was left to my own devices because I couldn’t find the pub crawl in time to leave for the next bar.
In France you eat snails, in Budapest you drink Polinka. This is a fact. The Hungarian fruit brandy isn’t for the faint of heart. You see the word ‘fruit’ but do not expect a sweet liqueur. Polinka, as I like to say, is a process, one that is rewarded with a sense of achievement and a buzzing body after the burning sensation subsides, but it is totally worth it. Another Hungarian drink worth trying is Unicum. It is made from a secret recipe of 40 different herbs, and let me tell you, you can feel every one of them going down. An atomic bomb level explosion of taste, Unicum isn’t to everyone’s pleasure, but it’ll all in good fun.
Hungary isn’t well known for their beer, specializing in the cheap and cheerful kind. However, Hungary is quickly gaining footing in the wine industry. The Country has 22 wine regions and produces some very nice wines. Perhaps try one of the local wine’s with a cheeky glass with dinner, rather than a sloppy night out, though. Or take to the streets. While not technically legal, no one enforces the public drinking laws. Everyone does it, so grab some friends, some locally sourced drinks and find a nice view to sit and admire Budapest under a stary sky.
In Budapest, if something looks interesting, it probably is. The best way to get a feel for any city is just letting your feet take you where they may. If you see somewhere on your explorations that looks interesting take the opportunity to have a peek around. Local’s will be more than happy to offer you any advice, make recommendations and even try to teach you a little Hungarian if you ask. If you know any Hungarian the local appreciate tourists attempting speak in their native tongue. If you mess up, which is inevitable as it is a really complicated language, they will happily correct you and appreciate you trying. The Residents of Budapest are honestly among some of the nicest people that I have met, and going back each time is an honor and a privilege, sober or otherwise.
On A Side Note
Drinking in Budapest is a great experience, and if you get an opportunity to drink with locals remember not the clink beer glasses. Spirits and wine are fair game, but for reasons that aren’t even all that clear to the Hungarian’s etiquette dictated that you don’t clink your beer glasses. It isn’t a rule, and many modern Hungarians have discarded the practice, but it always adds to any cultural experience trying to follow old traditions. Trying to remember this tidbit become harder and harder with each shot of Polinka.